Talk at the End of the Asana & Meditation Class
Sunday, April 17th 2022
Learning the “Beginner’s Mind”
“Each one of us is given unique material in our daily lives as the ground for Yoga, for learning and living the Truth.” —Reflection found in Echo From the Cave: 174
Several months ago I found myself in a situation of needing to change my job. Though my case wasn’t the kind where I had some plan in advance or some idea of what I would change my job to, just simply I was in the situation of needing to find something new. It just so happens that the door that opened, the field where I entered, is a field that I didn’t expect (or even really know about). It has to do with looking at different homes and inspecting them for the functionality, safety and condition of all the operating systems, which could include the heating system, the structure, the plumbing, etc.
The point is that everything about this field is absolutely and completely new to me. I’m a total beginner. And what I’ve been experiencing going through it all, I feel, is giving me an important lesson into something that Shri Mahayogi, and senior disciples, say is very important, and that is, the “beginner’s mind.”
As part of preparing for entry into this field of work, I have been taking a class and learning alongside a small group of peers who are also preparing themselves. Many of my peers have backgrounds in related fields, so it seemed to me that they knew a fair amount already, which also seemed to be in stark contrast to my own feeling of “I know nothing!” Because of feeling that “I know nothing” kind of feeling, while at the same time feeling the urgency to maximize this time of learning, since it is only for a short few months, and there is a true need for me to prepare myself well so that I can get into work, I didn’t hesitate much to express when I didn’t understand or to ask questions to try to understand better, even if I thought “this must already be something that is so obvious to everyone else.”
Then, one day when we were out at a practice jobsite, I started to notice something. I started to notice that when I am asking questions—things that I assume are probably related to basic things that everyone else must know already—all my peers would quietly stop what they were doing, lean in or come closer and listen attentively to whatever the instructor or his assistant were explaining or showing. And I also saw that their faces would show the same expression of “Ohhh…Now I see!” that I was more outwardly expressing. That caught my attention, because that’s when I started to recognize that my classmates perhaps didn’t know everything already, like I had supposed from their demeanor. And perhaps somewhere within, they could be feeling the same thing as me, but somehow not expressing it and not really asking questions. Why is that? I wondered.
Reflecting on it, brought me to reflect on myself, and then I saw something that I have probably experienced in myself on many occasions. It is a subtle layer of thought that the mind wears, the thought of “I should know that already.” Such a small and simple thought can carry a lot along with it. To begin with, it is based on a certain expectation…that could be an expectation we think society has for us, or one that we ourselves have created. This is pure speculation, but if I put myself in the shoes of one of my classmates, I think that, just in the simple fact that this field relates to something I would have previous knowledge or experience in, even if it is not exactly the same thing, I might feel that I should in some sense know already, be able to do already, understand already, be already…which is nothing different from something that I can perceive happening within myself, albeit in different situations and contexts.
In fact, when I am in a similar situation, whether conscious of it or not, I may incidentally be trying to give that impression to others or represent myself that way. The unfortunate part is that because of that little sheer layer of that thought resting over the mind, even if it is only the slightest wish for that “already” part, growth and learning can become stunted, and passion and urgency can be dampened…which in turn makes it more difficult to open myself up—without inhibitions—to really take in and receive something new. Taking a step back and seeing it, well it seems silly for me to get in my own way like that, over such an unrealistic expectation that is nothing more than an invisible notion…but that little thought or view can slip over the mind in such a smooth way that it can be hard to catch. And at the same time, it stands firmly as an obstacle to the “beginner’s mind.”
So in this unique situation of entering a new field and naturally having no choice but to have a “beginner’s mind” without being necessarily conscious of it, I really feel like I am being given the circumstances that are helping me start to recognize something important and start to learn more about what the “beginner’s mind” may be, and at least something that it is not. And it seems that through the overarching experience of it all, including the diminished notions of what I should or shouldn’t know already, or should or shouldn’t be already, something much more fascinating and beautiful seems to be unfolding, some learning that is much beyond just the content of the preparation course. And I am seeing that that itself has an immense value.
If I share just one example, I feel that one of the things I am being shown is that, even in these rather mundane and inanimate seeming things—like the examining and testing of building systems, which I probably first perceived as more or less mechanical, technical and straightforward—there is an expression of the same beautiful and dynamic Truth that we hear about from Shri Mahayogi and through Yoga. Almost as if hiding right there, disguised in the ordinary things that I have probably taken for granted throughout most of my life!!
Just like in Shri Mahayogi’s teaching, “Atman: All is for It” in The Universal Gospel of Yoga, in looking at the various systems within a home, everything has its part to play, everything has its role, and everything is coexisting all together, always for the sake of providing something for “another.” In a home, each piece or part, no matter how inanimate or mechanical it may seem, has its role, its influence and at the same time is in its own cycle that all things of nature and the world are subject to, all having a beginning, all constantly changing, all benefitting from care, attention, and appreciation, and at some point all becoming non-functional and in need of being replaced…in other words, time for its form to change and re-enter this cycle…and all coming together to form this dynamic whole. There must be endless reflections and reiterations, from the most micro to the most macro, of the same thing, the same patterns, the same nature, and ultimately, as Shri Mahayogi teaches us, the same Essence that is the backdrop of it all, within endless varieties of circumstances and situations. Certainly all of the ordinary things, the happenings and circumstances within each of our daily lives, must also be telling a dynamic story of Truth, maybe just waiting for us to stop and listen. And I feel that because that dynamic Truth can be right there in those ordinary things, then it’s like those ordinary things themselves become the material that can help us to further learn and come to understand Yoga, or the Truth, in a way that is completely different from just reading about it in a book and logically seeing the fact of it.
“You just have to rid yourself of attachment. Only then will you be able to truly cherish and love the limited material body, the world and everything else, even if all of them are destined to disintegrate.” These words of Shri Mahayogi, in the teaching mentioned above, feel as if they are resonating in the experience I am relating here.
Coming back again to the “beginner’s mind,” I would really like to work towards carefully and thoroughly removing attachment towards any notion of “I should … already.” (It’s perhaps an attachment with a different flavor than how I might typically think of “attachment,” but nonetheless, I think it is attachment of some sort.) The natural conditions of my recent circumstances seem to have allowed a moment to see its limitation, to experience being more free from it, and to taste the joy of discovery and learning that can more spontaneously come out of it. This is all gratefully bringing me to see more clearly now the importance and value of cultivating the “beginner’s mind” in all varieties of situations, even when it may seem more difficult to catch the mind’s thin little layers of attachment, that quietly sneak in as mere shadows of notions. And, though I think I have a few more tools now than before, I’m not 100% sure of the exact way or what will come along in the process…but I think I’m looking forward to simply being able to work towards it.
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